There remain more questions than answers as we enter The Month of the iPhone. Or at least it will be if Apple makes its ship date.

 

I won’t get into speculating, there are plenty of blogs and gossip sites for that. What I’m wondering about is the big question, whenever the iPhone ships and whatever it really does.

 

That question is: How many Americans are willing to change cellular carriers in order to pay $500 plus God-knows-how-much-a-month for the unlimited data plan that AT&T plans to require of iPhone users?

 

AT&T is counting on the iPhone to give it a big increase in market share by siphoning customers from other carriers. If those people don’t appear, the iPhone may be a big win for Apple, but won’t do much for the phone company.

 

As a guy who has written two (now thankfully out-of-print) books about Apple hardware, who owns a half-dozen iPods, and at this very instant is running Windows on his MacBook Pro, you might conclude that I already have my name on the iPhone waiting list.

 

And you’d be wrong.

 

Changing carriers would incur an early termination penalty from my current carrier, where I am under contract until the end of the year. If I were going to change carriers based solely on service, it would be to Verizon, widely regarded as having the best US coverage. (Since we’ve ruled out both AT&T/Cingular and Verizon that must mean I am a Sprint or T-Mobile user. And I am, but I won’t say which).

 

$500 is pretty steep for a cell phone, especially one that really isn’t an iPod replacement for someone like myself who has a 60 GB iPod completely filled. The iPod applications may also be of limited value since I get my mail and calendar from a Microsoft Exchange server. Hard to tell how well the iPhone and Exchange will get along.

 

I also harbor a great suspicion the iPhone won’t live up to the hype. I have never been a fan of telephones that try to do too much. These electronic overachievers usually fall short as web browsers, email devices, music players, or whatever else they try to do besides provide cellular dial tone.

 

Maybe the iPhone will change all this. If it does, I will probably end up with a competitor.

 

Huh?

 

The iPod will hopefully cause the fairly clueless cellular hardware companies to come up with a decent competitor. Not that there’s any history to indicate that they will, but if the iPhone is a success I am sure a ZunePhone will follow. OK, maybe not a Zune, but something that shows Motorola, Samsung, Nokia, et al, are not completely insulated from market reality. Or maybe I am showing entirely too much faith is capitalism.

 

Of course, such a device still wouldn’t work with iTunes. Maybe we’ll see a lawsuit accusing Apple of illegally using iTunes to sell iPods by not supporting any other hardware. Maybe Microsoft will file such a suit, which probably has some merit.

 

If I were guessing, I’d bet that a year from now I will be using a Blackberry-like device, because my main requirement is email and I prefer having a real keyboard, even a tiny one, over a touchscreen. Maybe I will be on Verizon, maybe not. My choice of carriers will depend, in part, on how serious competition becomes.

 

In short: The better the iPhone does, the better deal I’ll be able to get on some other phone from some other carrier.

 

That is surely reason enough to wish the iPhone well. If it’s really what Steve Jobs says it is, I could end up with one. If it’s not, I might get a really good deal somewhere else.

 

And for people who say the iPhone can’t miss, let me utter a single word: Newton. Or two words: digital cameras. Apple was a pioneer in both PDAs and digital photography, but their hardware efforts went precisely nowhere.

 

Unless it’s a miserable failure—which I don’t expect—the iPhone is a good thing, both for the people who buy one and for the rest of us who don’t.